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  • Nathan Reingold, 1927–2004
  • Marc Rothenberg (bio)

Nathan Reingold, senior historian emeritus, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, and former editor of the Joseph Henry Papers, died of a stroke and aspiration pneumonia on 30 October 2004 at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. Nate, as he was universally known, was seventy-seven.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in the Bronx, Nate became, in his own words, a "compulsive reader" at age nine after a bout with rheumatic fever.1 His interest in history was piqued by his reading of historical fiction.2 After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School he attended New York University, where he majored in English, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1947. Having decided to pursue a career in history, he earned his master's degree in 1948 in American studies from New York University. He received his Ph.D. in American civilization in 1951 from the University of Pennsylvania, where a mentor, the medical historian Richard H. Shryock (who had just served as Brooke Hindle's dissertation advisor), encouraged an interest in the history of science. He moved to Washington the same year to work at the National Archives. From 1959 to 1966 he was on the staff of the Science and Technology Division of the Library of Congress, before moving to the Smithsonian Institution as founding editor of the Joseph Henry Papers Project. After nineteen years at the Henry Papers, Nate became senior historian at the National Museum of American History in [End Page 479] 1985. He retired from government service in 1993. He often mentioned his great pride in having worked in all three of the great American national cultural institutions in Washington, claiming he was the first individual to do so. Nate remained active as a scholar until he suffered a major stroke in June 1998. Thereafter he was confined to a wheelchair, and his ability to write and research was greatly limited.

In 1992, reviewing Nate's book Science, American Style for Technology and Culture, Edwin Layton described him as "the dean of historians of science in America."3 It was a title Nate richly deserved. The mentor of a generation of historians of science, the editor of six books and five volumes of The Papers of Joseph Henry, and the author of dozens of essays, Nate was instrumental in transforming the history of American science from an intellectual backwater to a major arena of historical research. As an archivist, editor, and scholar he demonstrated the richness of this country's documentation of the history of its scientific endeavors.

Monographs were not Nate's forte. He was never able to sustain a narrative for hundreds of pages. His two most important books—Science in Nineteenth-Century America: A Documentary History and, coedited with his wife, Ida Reingold, Science in America: A Documentary History, 1900-1939—used documents to illustrate important themes in the history of American science. His other books were collections of articles, his or others.4

He was, however, the master of a different genre, the essay. Many of his essays became required reading for students of the history of American science. They ranged in subject from the relationship between science and technology in nineteenth-century America to Hollywood's depiction of the atomic bomb, the impact of refugee mathematicians prior to World War II, and, a favorite later in his career, the history of the history of science as a discipline. But whatever the subject matter, these essays shared four characteristics: a clear thesis, demonstrated command of the manuscript sources and published literature, a sense of humor, and great concern for institutional history. (It was this last characteristic that led Layton to write that Nate's work was "intimately intertwined with the history of technology in America" and that "no historian of technology should neglect" Nate's essays.5 ) He described his strategy as looking for the routine, or the lowest common denominator. Nate also enjoyed interjecting autobiographical commentary on what it was like to be a historian in a field marginal to the [End Page 480] historical profession. One question which he came back to time and again was national difference. How was the...


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